Sandwiched from all sides by a frenzied crowd of devotees, all calling out ‘Govinda Govinda’ as if lost in a trance, I’m quickly swept off my feet and carried along by the waves of people in this mighty ocean. There’s only one thought going through my mind- this is an experience like no other! The Venkateswara Swamy temple at Tirumala (a hill town in Andhra Pradesh, Southern India) is what the great philosopher Immanuel Kant would probably describe as a ‘noumenon’- A phenomenon beyond human intelligence.
Waiting for hours in the crowd-thronged lines, quite literally ‘rubbing shoulders’ with strangers for the most part just to catch a brief glimpse of the deity can be quite unnerving, especially if you’re there during the summer months when the heat can set fire to your temper leading to some squabbles and fist fights along the way. I learned long ago and accepted the fact that these are part and parcel of every visit to Tirumala.
“Why should I go through this uncomfortable, annoying few hours to see Him? Isn’t He already residing in my heart, within me? Won’t He listen to my prayer if I just prayed from the comfort of my home? Or from anywhere for that matter?” These are the questions I ask myself as I squirm in the crowd where the idea of ‘personal space’ is all erased and forgotten. You would imagine this experience would discourage me from making another trip to Tirumala. But what happens every time is quite the contrary.
Despite all the hardship and discomfort, the moment I set foot inside the sanctum and see Him, all the pain and anguish seem to just evaporate. Some divine aura envelopes me at the sight of this mystic deity, Lord Venkateswara or Balaji as we like to call Him lovingly, and makes me forget everything! Somehow, the fact that I’m drenched in sweat or that the lady in front of me just jostled me don’t seem to matter anymore. All that matters now is making the most of the few seconds I get to be there before the volunteer beside me utters the dreadful ‘Jarangandi’ (meaning “move along”). In those few seconds I frantically try to pray, but I can’t recall even one thing I wanted to ask Him. I just stand there spell-bound and overwhelmed, tears brimming! Maybe that’s the design. Maybe He knows all too well what we need and what we should have. We don’t need to ask.
How would you explain this? How is it that this temple is thronged by tens of thousands of devotees day after day who come with the same zeal and excitement every time knowing very well that getting a darshan here is not easy? Is it the compelling aura of the temple structure believed to have been built around 300 AD, or is it the alluring beauty of the deity itself that attracts devotees, or is it the crowd’s collective consciousness that somehow transforms into an inexplicable emotion? Maybe it’s pure, simple faith. Whatever it is, the experience is beyond description and comparison…